A character's death is faked in order to frighten someone; it is typically used by villains to torment heroes or innocents. This trope conveniently accomplishes several results: it adds tension to the narrative, it establishes the villain's place on the Sliding Scale of Villain Threat, and it gives the hero another impetus to start his Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
Sometimes overlaps with Disney Death. Compare and contrast with Staged Shooting and Bait-and-Switch Gunshot. See also The Blofeld Ploy, in which the villain murders someone else at the last second, and Our Hero Is Dead.
Potential spoilers ahead.
- In Monster, Johan is shot in the head after the final showdown. We assume that he is dead until we see him hooked up to life support, with Runge telling the paramedics that there is indeed a genius brain surgeon available nearby.
- In Digimon Adventure, Gatomon tries to protect her partner Kari's identity from Myotismon by facing away from her and pretending to have never met her before. She slips up when Myotismon orders an attack on Kari, causing her to turn and blurt out Kari's name in horror, only to find DemiDevimon tugging on Kari's hair.
- Danganronpa 3 does this to both Makoto and the viewer early in the future arc by faking the death of Aoi Asahina. As this has been billed as the end of a saga, and since this IS Danganronpa, everyone actually believed it when it first happened. It turns out that the "victim" was actually just splattered with tomato sauce and stabbed with a toy knife by a third party, none other than Monaca Towa.
- During the course of Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ, Judau's sister Leina is kidnapped by Glemy Toto, and wounded during her rescue from Neo Zeon custody in Dakar. While recovering, an enemy mobile suit crashes on the hut where she was recovering, and the Four Chords of Death are heard as Judau believes his sister has just been killed. As it turns out, Sayla Mass had gotten Leina out before the hut was destroyed, and she's reunited with her brother at the end of the series.
- Played for Laughs in episode 6 of Oreimo. Kyousuke goes to Manami's house to help her family with some Halloween party preparations. However, when they go into the living room, they find her grandfather laying on top of the table cold and lifeless. In an understandably panicked state, they think he's really dead, since his body is cold and he has no pulse. However, her grandmother goes into the room, then tells Kyousuke that he stayed in the store's refrigerator to get cold, and that his pulse has always been weak. She then tells him that if he doesn't stop his act, she's going to pull out his hairs one by one. The grandpa instantly revives.
- This is done in the movie Space Pirate Captain Harlock (2013), when the crew of Arcadia informs a group of would be recruits that they have room for only one, and everybody else gets a dropped off a plank several hundred feet into the ground below. When Arcadia flies off, the audience is shown that they were above Soft Water, instead.
- Done in the second Atari Force series with an entire dimension. After the Dark Destroyer has detonated his galaxy-destroying antimatter bomb, the heroes believe their home universe has been destroyed. It isn't until later that they learn otherwise.
- In the Tintin book Cigars of the Pharaoh, Tintin is apparently executed by firing squad, but the rifles were only loaded with blanks. Since Tintin was in on the fake execution, it was the audience who got scared.
- In Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, Joker provokes Batman into coming for him by, over the phone, acting as though he's murdering a nurse with a pencil through her eyes.
- In New Avengers, Doctor Strange casts an illusion that causes Victoria Hand to experience her own death as part of a shake-down to see where her loyalties truly lie.
- In Empath: The Luckiest Smurf, Papa Smurf thought that Empath had died at the hands of the Psyche Master when he was brought to Psychelia by Papa Smurf as an infant in the novel. He doesn't find out until years later that the Psyche Master didn't kill Empath, but merely subjected him to a painful Mind Rape that erased his memory.
- The Legend of Korra Dark Fic Subduction (here) begins with one, and picks up another later on: The story starts with Mako being unwillingly Press-Ganged by a firebender supremacist group, who leave the horribly burned body of some poor random sap in his place. Later, they lead him believe that Bolin has been killed by one of their assassins. This makes Mako all the more protective over the painfully naïve sixteen-year-old combustionbender Yaozhu...which makes what ultimately happens to Yaozhu all the more horrific.
- Another The Legend of Korra Dark Fic, Crescendo, involves Enfant Terrible Big Bad Masaki taunting Korra by telling her that she's doomed Asami by stopping to save an innocent, and going into considerable gory detail with his description of slowly killing her. This later proves to be a Thanatos Gambit: Asami was still alive, if badly injured; and Masaki was trying to manipulate Korra into killing him, knowing that she'd be horribly traumatized by it. Which would have failed...if he hadn't previously manipulated Korra into damaging her own hand badly enough that it locked up while she was throttling him, preventing her from letting go in time.
- Conspicuously averted in Act of Valor, where during the interrogation scene, Senior Chief shows the captive a video of the captive's family, and then says that if he doesn't cooperate, he'll never see them again, because he'll be in captivity forever. He never threatens to harm the family, even though he very obviously could.
- Helen Hannah (supposedly) dies in the Day Of Wonders virtual reality program in Tribulation, but is later shown to be spared by the Antichrist in Judgment.
- Also in Tribulation: Jason Quincy (Howie Mandel) runs for his life hearing gunshots when a One Nation Earth officer (secretly The Mole) infiltrates a Christian hideout, supposedly killing his friends, but in reality is only firing blanks.
- Argo (a film about the Iranian hostage crisis) the guards have a Kick the Dog moment when they perform a mock execution of the prisoners. Unfortunately, it's truth in television (see the Real Life section below for details).
- In Blooded, Charlie and Ben watch in horror as the RLA seemingly executes Lucas with a bullet to the head. It turns out to be a Staged Shooting intended to scare Lucas into compliance.
- In the opening scene of The Dark Knight Rises, the CIA agent attempts this on the three hooded "prisoners" on the plane as a form of Perp Sweating, pretending to shoot one hooded detainee and then "throw" him off the airplane mid-flight in order to encourage the two other captive and hooded guys to talk. The effort fails miserably for when the second guy fails to talk:
CIA Agent: A lot of loyalty for a hired gun!
Bane: Or perhaps he's wondering why someone would shoot a man, before throwing him out of a plane.
- Detroit: The cops make the people they're interrogating believe they've killed some of them, to get the others talking. It doesn't work.
- In The Hot Rock, unlucky criminal John Dortmunder has one of his partners tossed down an elevator shaft in a building under construction because the guy's father had swiped the title diamond from Dortmunder and crew (after they stole it from a museum). Except that the victim landed on a safety net and, after his dad admits where he hid the diamond, sonny boy's voice comes from the shaft, mockingly scolding him.
- Inside Man: At some point during the hostage crisis in the bank the hostage takers, to prove that they're not to be messed with, execute one of their hooded captives in front of the single camera they left intact for non-verbal communication with the cops. The cop protagonist has a Heroic BSoD because of this, but after everything is over it's revealed that it was staged.
- Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence: In a mock execution, Celliers is told he has been found guilty of war crimes and is chained up in front of a firing squad. They shoot but - surprise! Just kidding!
- In Mission: Impossible III, Ethan and his wife Julia are duct-taped to chairs by the Big Bad, Owen Davian. The wife is gagged. Owen threatens to kill Julia in ten seconds unless Ethan tells him where he put the MacGuffin. Ethan tells him he gave him the MacGuffin already. Owen counts down, with Ethan desperately trying to convince him that he already did what he wanted. Owen shoots Julia in the knee at one point, which makes Ethan scream I'll Kill You!, but he still insists he handed over the MacGuffin. When he reaches zero, Owen then shoots Julia dead and leaves. Then The Dragon shows up and pulls an mask off Julia, who turns out to be Owen's security chief. The entire scene was actually a Secret Test of Character by Owen, and a You Have Failed Me for the security chief.
- In The Negotiator, Roman (the police negotiator-come-hostage taker) insinuates over the phone that he killed a hostage (a fellow cop) to prove that he was serious about killing them. This charade is kept up as a ploy by Roman for some time to gain leverage, even in the face of Saban (a negotiator from another precinct brought in as an honest broker) honestly considering letting SWAT end the whole thing with bullets.
- In Ransom, the hero hears the gunshot over the phone, but it turns out his son wasn't really shot, the villain just wanted to scare the hero.
- The Soldier has an early scene of an Israeli agent shooting a Palestinian terrorist in the head to intimidate a Palestinian informant into betraying more of his comrades — it implies the informant was responsible for the capture of the murdered terrorist, who screams, "Traitor!" just before dying. Except the killing was faked, and the "dead" terrorist was actually a deep-cover Israeli.
- Henry Gondorf (Paul Newman) and Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford} pull this off with panache in The Sting, with some help from some friends posing as the Feds, all to pull a con on big time con artist Doyle Lonigan.
- In a variant, Jimmy Malone in The Untouchables scares the crap out of a captured smuggler by letting him see Malone demand that his accomplice reveal information, threaten to blow his head off if he won't talk, and then literally blow the accomplice's brains out. What the surviving captive (who, terrified, tells all he knows) didn't know was that the accomplice had already been fatally shot by Elliot Ness in the gunfight just before: Malone was just "interrogating" a corpse.
- Done by the hero in Alexander Kent's Wooden Ships and Iron Men novel Enemy in Sight!: Captain Richard Bolitho apparently gunned down what looked like a captured French sailor. This convinced the French captain that Bolitho would fire when the next person he leveled his pistol at was the French officer's son. He cracked and revealed where he was hiding the secret information Bolitho was after. Afterward, the "murdered" sailor, actually British, stood up unharmed. Interestingly, Bolitho hadn't warned even some of his most trusted subordinates of what he was really doing.
- In the fourth Fablehaven book, the Society of the Evening Star pulls a version of this by kidnapping Kendra and leaving a clone behind, for spying purposes. When the clone is caught it commits suicide, leaving everyone to think that Kendra is dead.
- From Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: At one point, they hear what they think is the hippogriff being executed. It turns out to be the executioner hitting The fence (a pumpkin in the movies) with his axe after he finds out the hippogriff escaped.
- In the second Hunger Games book, the Gamemakers fill one area of the arena with jabberjays mimicking the screams of the tributes' loved ones. Those who hear them often react without thinking, drawing them away from safety.
- At the beginning of the The Lost Fleet series, the Syndics execute the high-ranking officers of The Alliance fleet sent to negotiate surrender terms with them. Much later in the series, it's revealed that the execution was staged. The Syndic CEOs aren't stupid to kill high-value prisoners with intel.
- Nightmare Academy has Verminion the Deceiver, who bisects two shape-shifting Mimics disguised as Charlie Benjamin's parents in front of him in order to overwhelm him with horror so he could unintentionally form a portal for Barrakas to come through.
- In Take Me With You, Aizel tells Eli, Eden and Marwan that Svetlana died in a car accident after Ilanka told her about the device's existence. Zigzagged- Aizel is not really a villain, in fact she just wants to be loved and is a friend of Eli's. In addition, the fake kill scare was only used to scare Eli, Eden and Marwan, who barely knew Svetlana- Svetlana's family and Ilanka knew the entire time that she was alive.
- Tortall Universe: Played with in Emperor Mage, when the eponymous emperor has Numair killed. This angers everyone's favorite wildmage, and she proceeds to call up some zombie dinosaur skeletons and every other living animal in the area, destroy the imperial palace, and do quite a bit more damage. When Numair shows up, proving to her that it was a magical clone of himself that had been killed, she cools off, answering "What happened?'' with "I thought you were dead. I lost my temper."
- Wings of Fire: In Escaping Peril, Ex-Queen Scarlet throws a severed head at the Ruby and the dragonets of destiny. The head in question belonged to Glory. Tsunami does a Death Wail, and immediately chases after Scarlet. In the aftermath, Turtle notices a slip in Glory's ear, and pulls it out. The head then changes to a MudWing, revealing that Glory was in fact fine, and that the head was a magical disguise. Peril lampshades this, and theorizes that Scarlet has an animus working for her.
- Used on 24 by Jack Bauer at least once, when he pretended to shoot one of the kids of a terror suspect to convince him he was perfectly willing to kill the man's innocent family to get the information he wanted. The Reveal that the kid was safe only came after the suspect 'confessed', and only to the audience (and Jack's Love Interest of the season, who was giving him the What the Hell, Hero? treatment).
- In Babylon 5, one of the psychological tortures used against Sheridan when he was a prisoner of the Clark regime was to stage a mock execution of a fellow prisoner (who was actually working for the interrogators).
- The Barrier: The police from a Police State prentends to have killed someone close to a murder suspect in hope that it will draw the suspect out of hiding.
- At the end of the Bill Nye the Science Guy "Pollution" episode, Bill gets tangled in scrap wire and loaded via Conveyor Belt o' Doom into a trash compactor. Afterwards, his labcoat is shown plastered to a bale of trash, but Pat disclaims that "no science guys were harmed in the making of this program".
- A funeral fake-out is shown at the end of Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Lovers Walk" and the Supernatural episode "And Then There Was None", in which a major character is supposedly killed, we cut to a graveyard, then it turns out to be someone else being buried.
- In "The Initiative" a scene where Spike attacks Willow in her dorm room was deliberately set up to make it appear Willow had been killed, in response to internet rumors that this would happen. Instead it leads to The Reveal (after the Commercial Break Cliffhanger) that Spike has been fitted with a Restraining Bolt.
- In "Into the Woods", after Spike exposes his dalliances with vampire prostitutes to Buffy, a furious Riley Finn turns up at Spike's crypt and rams a stake into the vampire's heart. The stake turns out to be made of plastic, not wood.
- A variant in Chuck in the Season 4 opener. Sarah and Casey have been captured, Chuck and Morgan are surrounded as they attempt to save them. Sarah begs for them to be let go over the radio, the Boss orders his men to kill them, a LOT of gunshots and a scream are heard.... and then Chuck's voice is heard.
- It ties in with Moment of Awesome, when combined with the dialogue. "Look, clearly you have no idea who I am since you only sent ten of your men to kill me." He had just knocked out an entire team of armed men who were surrounding him and SHOOTING, in a matter of seconds.
- Criss Angel Mindfreak pulled this during a woodchipper escape trick, where he apparently failed to escape and got shredded, only to emerge unscathed seconds later.
- Happens in the opener to an episode of CSI: NY. A girl is standing in the street, begging her bitter ex-boyfriend not to drop her little dog over the balcony with the rest of her stuff. He drops the dog, the girl screams, her companion's pants are splattered with blood... and then it's revealed she caught the dog safely and the blood is actually being sprayed by a passing salt truck.
- Doctor Who:
- At the start of "The Invasion", a missile is fired at the TARDIS and the Doctor can't get the controls to work! Have our heroes been obliterated before their adventure even begins? Of course they haven't.
- "Dalek": When Rose gets trapped on the same side of an armoured door as the Dalek, we hear "EXTERMINATE!" and the sound of a shot... and later Rose gets back on the radio, very much alive.
- The Handmaid's Tale: As punishment for declining to stone one of their own, the Handmaids in Cambridge are hauled inside a baseball stadium where they're subjected to a mock mass hanging.
- Done by the heroes in Leverage, "The Maltese Falcon Job." They have a corrupt mayor held hostage in a warehouse and make him call a criminal he's been working with (who they're running a con on). Then they make it sound as though the mayor has just been killed. Which blows their cover the moment the mayor escapes and shows up alive.
- On Lost, Sayid, Jin, and Bernard were captured by the Others, and Ben tells his men over the phone to shoot all three of them while Jack listens. It turns out that they merely fired shots into the sand to scare Jack, but this causes Jack to deliver a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown on Ben when he thinks his friends are dead.
- The Mentalist: In a rare example of this being done by the protagonist, Jane sets up a particularly elaborate version of this trope while investigating the murder of a scientist who was working on a device that could alter a person's morality. Jane presents himself as an experimental subject and then "accidentally" terminates the procedure when it was supposedly set to eliminate his moral compass (as a test of the system's effectiveness). He then proceeds to "kill" one of the victim's colleagues in order to sell it, so that the suspect will believe that Jane is willing to harm him and react accordingly.
- On NCIS: Los Angeles, Callen deals with an uncooperative suspect by bringing in another suspect, tying a weight to him, and tossing him into the ocean. Suspect #1 immediately caves; afterwards, Callen steps out to where suspect #2 (actually an undercover agent) is toweling himself off.
- Stargate Atlantis's Kolya is speaking with Sheppard by their communicator, while having a gun trained on Weir. Though the shot isn't heard, the fact that Kolya threatens Weir, and then Sheppard doesn't hear any response is enough to garner this reaction from him. And then Kolya tells him that she's dead... prompting Sheppard to go on a killing rampage across the city, finishing it up by raising the stargate shield and Portal Slamming 92% of the incoming Genii reinforcements. He calms down only when Kolya confesses that he lied about Weir being dead.
- Tehran: Faraz torments Masoud by seeming like he's about to shoot him, only it's empty.
- Vengeance Unlimited: Mr Chapel captures two bad guys and ties them up on chairs in separate rooms. He shows up in front of one, puts on an apron, grabs a chainsaw, and heads to the next room. There he ungags the second prisoner and threatens him with the running chainsaw, eliciting loud screams of terror, before gagging him again, turning to a table bearing a big slab of juicy meat, and chainsawing through that. Then he comes back to the first prisoner, now much more talkative...
- In the Waking the Dead episode "Pietà part II", Boyd has Radovan injected with what he is told is poison (for which he has the antidote) in order to force his compliance in a hostage exchange. It turns out to be saline solution.
- Two FBI agents searching for a missing prisoner pull this in the Without a Trace episode "Penitence"—the prisoner who they suspect knows who the killer is but is afraid of him supposedly stabs on of them to death. This gives them the perfect opportunity to not only question him alone when he's supposedly arrested, but will make him popular among the other inmates.
- Batman: Arkham Series:
- In the Catwoman trailer for Batman: Arkham City, Dr. Hugo Strange is interrogating Catwoman and threatens to have his men harm her adopted daughter, Holly, if she doesn't cooperate. When she refuses to answer one question, he radios a sniper and orders him to pull the trigger, eliciting a shout of "NO!" from Catwoman. Strange cancels the order on the condition that she becomes more cooperative from then on.
- In Batman: Arkham Knight, Batman sees Oracle commit suicide before his eyes one third into the game. However, it turns out that this was just Batman tripping on Fear Gas. In addition, the tape that Joker sent to Batman is most likely the reason that he is so overprotective of Tim in City and Knight; He's afraid that without his supervision, Tim could also be captured, broken and killed by one of the villains.
- In Might & Magic: Dark Messiah Leanna appears to have been killed by Arantir however you get the chance to rescue her from his lair later in the game.
- In Final Fantasy Tactics, Delita approaches Balmafula with the apparent intent of killing her after she back sasses him, and a Scream Discretion Shot happens...but she turns up in a later cutscene not looking any worse for wear. However, considering the scream and the fact that she doesn't speak in any of her following cutscenes, there's a strong implication that Delita cut out her tongue or did something similar to her.
- Gears of War: Clay Carmine just can't seem to catch a break with these.
- Near the middle of Act 2, Cole's squad approaches a camp of Stranded. A sniper out front aims down his sights and shoots Carmine in the head... only for the bullet to bounce off of his helmet.
Carmine: Jeez Louise, what the fuck?!
- During the final boss fight, Carmine once again shows up in a Raven and attempts to gun down Myrrah, only to be shot down. Don't worry, though, he's Not Quite Dead.
- Near the middle of Act 2, Cole's squad approaches a camp of Stranded. A sniper out front aims down his sights and shoots Carmine in the head... only for the bullet to bounce off of his helmet.
- In Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, Desann pretends to kill Jan Ors to trick Kyle Katarn into leading him to the Valley of the Jedi. In retrospect, this was a very, VERY bad idea.
- Celia Fortner attempts one in Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, with the target being Soma Cruz. Should our hero believe it's real, things go wrong for her. Very, very wrong.
- A variant in the bonus chapter of Dark Tales: The Raven. The Raven Society firebombs the detectives' carriage and kidnaps Dupin. They leave behind a dead body that's identified as Dupin's by one of their agents, to keep the player character from staging a rescue. (It doesn't work.)
- Hitman: Absolution contains are dark variation when co-villains Dexter and Travis meet to exchange Victoria, the girl 47 has been trying to protect or rescue through the course of the game. Travis claims not to have the money promised to Dexter, prompting Dexter to shoot a bound and hooded Victoria... then immediately pull her hood off, revealing his actual victim to be a different (and relatively inconsequential) character, dressed in Victoria's clothes. The display of violence convinces Travis to pay up.
- Girl Genius: Castle Heterodyne drops Othar into a bottomless pit the second it learns he's a "hero" and his sister thinks it succeeded in killing him and starts angrily arguing with it while crying. Of course the reader knows it would take more than that to kill him and he walks through the door behind her brushing some dust off his sweater before the castle finishes talking about how fun it is to try and kill heroes and how a real hero wouldn't have been long inconvenienced by the drop. In this case it's the castle briefly faking the death since it enjoys messing with people.
- Stephanie from Paranormal Mystery Squad did this to Leonard. It's hard to tell whether she seriously expected it to break vampire mind control or was mostly mucking around. And whether he was simply freaked out by this travesty or in his less than clear-thinking state took all seriously. At least it was clearly amusing to her.
- Sluggy Freelance has done it once or twice depending on how you count. Once, during the "Isle of Doctor Steve" arc, Oasis has her legs wrapped around Torg's neck. Dr. Steve orders her to kill him, and the final panel is filled with a vicious *SNAP!* The next strip in the arc (after several days of following the B-plot) reveals that Torg is fine; the snap was because Bun-Bun (who disabled Dr. Steve's mind control device just in time) was eating celery. Lampshaded by Kiki, who was in the control room with Bun-Bun watching Torg's situation on a surveillance camera and was the only character in-universe to be fooled by the Fake Kill Scare targeted at the audience.
- S.S.D.D has an odd variant. Tessa has a near death experience, during it she hears some guys say that she has no pulse. Later she wakes up in a hospital bed and Sticks explains how when he came to get her she was in the freezer all cold and lifeless, then Sticks stops responding to her and she sees her dead boyfriend again. But then in the next comic Tessa wakes up again and Sticks explains that she just fell asleep halfway through his story. And incidentally Sticks had thought she was dead when he found her, until he remembered her cybernetic implants.
- Pixie, Dixie and Mr. Jinks: In "Ghost With The Most", Dixie fakes his death after Mr. Jinks clobbers him with a fireplace shovel and proceeds to haunt Jinks as his own ghost.
- The Popeye cartoon "She-Sick Sailors" has Bluto dressed as Superman to impress Olive. He challenges Popeye to shoot him with a machine gun to prove he is Superman, using a steel panel tucked in his costume. Popeye then offers to take the fire of the machine gun. When he does, he falls back under the pretense that he was killed, much to Olive's shock and Bluto's delight. He wasn't—the bullets were absorbed by his can of spinach.
- The Simpsons had this exchange:
[Lisa wheels Bart in on a wheelbarrow]
Lisa: Mom! Dad! Bart's dead!
[Homer & Marge gasp in horror]
Bart: That's right! Dead serious about going to Itchy & Scratchy land!
- This is actually used as a method of torture and coercion in real life situations.
- One mentionable instance was the actions of the West Side Boys Blood Diamond gang from Sierra Leone. When they caught a group of British rangers, whenever they got angry they would drag them out, line them up, tell them they were about to die, and pretend to execute them by yelling "Bang!" A particularly nasty kind of torture, as it drove home that they were totally at their captor's mercy. Of course it didn't end well for the West Side Boys.
- During the Iranian hostage crisis this was one of various acts of abuse the prisoners endured. To quote The Other Wiki:
- "The most terrifying night for the hostages came on February 5, 1980, when guards in black ski masks roused the 52 hostages from their sleep and led them blindfolded to other rooms. They were searched after being ordered to strip themselves until they were bare, and to keep their hands up. They were then told to kneel down. "This was the greatest moment" as one hostage said. They were still wearing the blindfolds, so naturally, they were terrified even further. One of the hostages later recalled 'It was an embarrassing moment. However, we were too scared to realize it.' The mock execution ended after the guards cocked their weapons and readied them to fire but finally ejected their rounds and told the prisoners to wear their clothes again. The hostages were later told the exercise was "just a joke" and something the guards "had wanted to do". However, this affected a lot of the hostages long after."
- Fyodor Dostoevsky suffered one of these. He was sentenced to death along with other young socialists, and placed in front of a firing squad. Just as the shots were about to come, a messenger came with a pardon for them. It's believed they were never going to be shot, but put through the ordeal anyway. One of his friends underwent a mental breakdown as a result. It likely influenced Dostoevsky's later work too.